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Buhari welcomes Blinken to Nigeria

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President Muhammadu Buhari today welcomed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the country.

The top US diplomat is on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa where he is looking to champion President Joe Biden’s key priorities of promoting democracy and fighting both climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Buhari and Blinken will discuss collaborating on international health security, expanding energy access and security, and other issues.

Blinken opened his three-nation tour in Kenya with a warning that several factors have led to a “democratic recession” of democracy around the world.

During a meeting Wednesday in Nairobi with Raychelle Omamo, Kenya’s foreign affairs ambassador, Blinken said, “We’re seeing, and we’ve seen over the last decade or so, what some are calling the democratic recession, democracies falling back.”

Blinken also addressed with Kenyan leaders specific regional issues such as ending the violence in Ethiopia, combating terrorism in Somalia and reviving Sudan’s transition to a civilian government.

Kenya, a member of the United Nations Security Council, is an important player in issues related to regional countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

Blinken’s tour of Africa includes a stop in Senegal. His trip is partially aimed at raising America’s profile as a key player in the region as it competes with China.

Despite its large contributions of money and vaccines to contain COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, the United States has had little success in gaining influence in the region.

With 20 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population and its largest economy, Nigeria is critical for any continent-wide strategy and successive US administrations have courted Nigerian leaders since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999.

And Biden will likely continue, evidently after his administration removed Nigeria from its religious freedom blacklist.

Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo, who did not visit Nigeria, made the decision late in his term at the urging of evangelical Christians who say that attacks on the community in the religiously diverse nation are systematic.

Oge Onubogu, West Africa director of the US Institute of Peace, said the Biden administration should see parallels between Nigeria and Ethiopia, where the lingering ethnic conflict in a major nation has mushroomed into a devastating war that risks regional chaos.

Blinken, she said, can reinforce the message that “what happens in Nigeria doesn’t only affect Nigeria, but it affects West Africa and the rest of the continent as well”.

State Department officials said Blinken would raise human rights in Nigeria and meet civil society groups throughout the trip, which will also take him to Senegal.

During his election campaign, Biden, though, voiced solidarity with the protesters and urged President Buhari to rein in security forces.

Senator Bob Menendez, a member of Biden’s Democratic Party who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at a hearing with Blinken called for a “fundamental rethink of the framework of our overall engagement” with Nigeria.

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